What is Dating Abuse?
Dating abuse (also known as dating violence, intimate partner violence, or relationship abuse) is a pattern of abusive behaviors -- usually a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time -- used to exert power and control over a dating partner.
Every relationship is different, but the things that unhealthy and abusive relationships have in common are issues of power and control. Violent words and actions are tools an abusive partner uses to gain and maintain power and control over their partner.
Any young person can experience dating abuse or unhealthy relationship behaviors, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, ethnicity, religion or culture. It does not discriminate and can happen to anyone in any relationship, whether it’s one that is casual or serious.
Dating abuse is more common than you think. There are some warning signs that can help you identify if your relationship is unhealthy or abusive, including the examples below. Remember, the abuse is never your fault, and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.
What Does Dating Abuse Look Like?
Teens and young adults experience the same types of abuse as adults, including:
- Physical Abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
- Verbal or Emotional Abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
- Sexual Abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.
- Digital Abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass or threaten a current or ex-dating partner such as demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyberbullying, non-consensual sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on social media.
- Stalking: Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored or harassed. Stalking can occur online or in person, and may or may not include giving unwanted gifts.
- Financial Abuse: Exerting power and control over a partner through their finances, including taking or withholding money from a partner, or prohibiting a partner from earning, or spending their money.
Download the Forms of Dating Abuse handout
Examples Of Abuse
Wondering what the forms of abuse look like in relationships? Here are a few examples:
Amber wants to say hi to Chris, but Tommy, her boyfriend, won’t let her. When Amber laughs off the jealousy, Tommy, whose hand she is holding, squeezes her hand – hard. Amber tells Tommy to stop because he is hurting her and Tommy responds, “Then maybe you should listen when I tell you something.” This is physical abuse.
Julia is really into fitness, but her partner, Ty, isn't really into it. Every time Julia sees Ty, she makes hurtful comments about his weight and eating habits like, "Are you sure you want to eat that?" or "Why don't you stop being a lazy slob and exercise? You're lucky to have someone as hot as me." This is emotional/verbal abuse.
Jenny and Brad have been sleeping together for a few months. Jenny is concerned about getting pregnant so she starts taking birth control. Brad tells Jenny she doesn’t need her pills and that if she loves him, she would just trust him. He makes a habit of flushing her birth control down the toilet. This is sexual abuse.
Monica and Tina broke up last week, and Tina isn’t taking it too well. She starts publically posting the private pictures Monica sent her while away at 4-H camp because she wants Monica to hurt as much as she does. This is digital abuse.
Ash isn’t interested in an exclusive “dating” relationship and suggests to Hunter, the person Ash has been talking to, that they take a break for a while to cool off. Hunter begins following Ash between classes, repeatedly insisting that they should be together. After being told to back off, Hunter keeps following Ash, and begins tracking Ash’s online check-ins. This is stalking.
Ana and Ramon have shared custody over their one-year-old son, Brandon. Ramon regularly takes Ana’s credit card without her permission and charges items until her card is maxed out. Ana has talked to Ramon, telling him that she doesn’t want him making charges on her credit card, but he just responds saying he needs things, and asking, “Don’t you want me to be happy so I can be a good dad to our son?” This is financial abuse.
If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship, help is available. Call 866.331.9474 or text "loveis" to 22522. Young people, 12 - 24, in the D.C. metro area in need of legal help, contact Break the Cycle's legal services team.
Find healthy relationship and dating abuse handouts, resources, and more here.